Who is Imobong Emah?
Haha, Imobong Emah is an otherworldly creature that descended from the klingon galaxy who found a human family and assumed a humanoid form. Okay, I’m bullshitting, Imobong is the first son and second child of two doctors and right now getting interviewed for Omoge Mura.
Interesting brand name, iMo. Is there a backstory to it?
Well, my brand name honours two people. It’s actually a fusion of my first name, Imobong, without the ‘bong’ and my friend Ismail Mohammed who inspired me to do whatever the hell I wanted. The ‘M’ is in capitals because Mohammed is a name sacred to the Muslims and I am a little scared for my life (laughs).
Describe the quintessential woman the iMo line was created to dress?
The quintessential woman; I’m a health conscious person so the woman I dress isn’t going to be unhealthy on either side of the BMI index, neither obese nor anorexic. So basically between the US sizes 6 – 10. She has the quintessential hour glass figure, but with design concessions to accommodate any shape of woman.
Tell us about your journey into creative design and how the iMo line came to be?
My journey into design was a strange one. Beyond being a designer, I dabbled in comic art, and because my comics were set in futuristic times, I had to create futuristic fashion to authenticate my characters. Eventually a friend of mine discovered my etchings and remarked that I had true promise as a fashion illustrator. When it got out that I was designing these futuristic clothes, people began to approach me for fashion ideas. That was the push that made me take my designs seriously. I won’t even get into how I started tailoring my sketches, that’s a story for a whole other day.
What’s you academic and professional background (if other than fashion design)?
I’m a doctor professionally. I have degrees in medicine and surgery. Design is a side hobby which has become a serious second job for me.
Did you receive professional training before you ventured into design?
I did take technical drawing classes in secondary school, which relies on constructing things based on what they look like. So that trained my eye in deconstruction and reconstruction of silhouettes. As for machine work, I went through a three month trial/error phase where I figured stuff out. Did I train to be a designer, No. Do I know how to do it, I think my work speaks for itself.
Your last cohesive body of work was the ‘Flow collection’, a cache of fifteen pieces leaning heavily towards volume and draping. What was your inspiration and influences for that collection?
Literally a stroll through a market in Kumasi. I was walking through Kumasi and I came across a store selling the most beautiful wooden beads for hair. I was drawn to them and wanted to incorporate them into clothing. I’d already wanted a ‘Flow’ collection that was made for Africa, no sleeves, no length, loose draping for aeration. So I decided to use the beads to accessorize drawstrings, and use the drawstrings to provide shape and silhouette for the dresses in the collection. The weather and my chance discovery inspired the Flow Collection.
You have a new collection in the planning stages. It’s a little early but can you give us a little insider’s view into the creative process for this new collection?
Yeah, there is a new summer collection, still in the creation phase. I named it Back to Black, it was actually inspired partly by the Amy Winehouse song of the same name and the fact that my sister absolutely adores black. The new collection is kind of a screw you to the general convention that black is exclusively for winter collections. There are shocks of white here and there for effect but generally every piece will be done in shades of black. The collection nods towards French design with a super fitted bodices and loose skirts.
What techniques of the trade do you feel you’ve mastered and which ones do you feel you’ve not quite grasped a mastery of?
Well, now I can draw my designs myself and create detailed construction sketches for my designs, I can sew them myself. Actually I can actually create whatever I can imagine with the right materials available. The one thing I think I need a mastery of is post production. Mass producing my designs would be very difficult, cos right now I work completely on my own. Other than that, I think I pretty much have everything else under my belt.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far (in and out of fashion)?
Outside fashion, I’m happy I became a doctor; that was hard. I conquered medicine, something I never even imagined was possible. In fashion, it was showing off my last collection at the KNUST fashion week in February this year, that and the catalogue shoot that came afterwards, something I’d planned for a whole year. Those make me really pleased with my progress in fashion so far.
Do you have any other creative outlets other than apparel design and creation?
Okay, I think I do a lot of creative ‘outletting’. I write novels, particularly of the science fiction and fantasy persuasions which are unusual and not the standard boy meets girl fare which I consider boring. I also draw, comic characters particularly. I once created a comic but I couldn’t quite balance all comic making’s peculiar expectations with my medical studies so the drawing has suffered. So my outlets are drawing, writing and design.
Where do you see the iMo line in say five years?
In five years, hopefully the iMo brand will have achieved some sort of critical acclaim here in Nigeria. I’ll most likely go into Bespoke clothing because of my issues with post production. I also hope to set up a design studio and staff to enlarge the brand. It will be difficult balancing that with medicine but ideally in the next half decade, the iMo brand will have grown, significantly.
This is a bit of a tricky one, who is your favourite designer?
(Laughs) This is really a tricky one. But if I had to choose I’d say hands down, Georges Chakras based on his superb attention to design and the cohesiveness of his collections. Other than that, my favourite duo is of course Dolce and Gabbana, then there’s Vera Wang and Zuhair Murad. Then Giambattista Valli; young, fresh and talented. Then Louis Vuitton gets a mention for their ability to turn every fashion show into an ethereal experience.
How do you describe your personal style?
My personal style is minimalist conservative. I don’t do loud colours, I’ll never be caught dead in yellow; Edwin knows and despises me for this, but I’ll never go back on that. I generally prefer neutrals because I’m also a doctor and need to maintain a level of professionalism but I’m not averse to the occasional pop of colour. I love the colour purple and I love boat shoes so much I’ll wear them with practically anything.
What is your perspective on the Nigerian fashion industry?
The main thing every Nigerian designer realises is if they want to make it, they have to push their own product, sort of how every other industry in Nigerian works. It’s not like Italy and France and the UK, where there is a solid framework of fashion weeks and fashion buyers to keep the designers in the black. Designers might have to rally and come together as a unit and create this framework because this essentially how the frameworks in the west were created. Also the Nigerian buyer doesn’t patronize Nigerian fashion, its better now than it was a decade ago but it could be much better. We have to wear clothes from our own country.
Do you think Nigerian design is terribly innovative?
The Nigerian design aesthetic is a little hit-and-miss. I love some designers and some just worry me. I think the problem with Nigerian design is that we’re refusing to tailor down to who we are and where we are. I see fashion as fashion for the people in the location. In the West the designers fashion for their seasons, Nigeria has only two seasons and I have rarely seen any designer who designs for the Nigerian seasons. Most just mimic western fashion trends. There’s also this presupposition that if it’s African, it has to have Ankara. A crippling supposition that robs the designers of the chance to use all the exotic local fabrics we create in the continent. Once we turn away from the west and tailor down to our people, we will have fashion that is beautiful and practical.